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    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2010 edited
    Perhaps a moderator can look for a prejudicial pattern; if one exists, they might then privately urge the responsible party (or parties) to give it a rest.

    I've just done some investigations in the database, and the worst instance I've discovered consists of someone making 4 downvotes across completely different posts in a short interval (6 hours ago). We've written to that person, asking them to vote on content but not the author. There may be the possibility to revoke those votes, but Anton would have to chime in on that. I'm sorry that you've community wiki'd all your old posts, it's definitely a suboptimal outcome.

    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010 edited

    @Harry. I feel I need to address a certain other issue here, since I am also responsible towards such a trend.

    The issues is that people misbehave with you. I have also taken part in it, I have to admit. It for instance happened in the following thread:

    in which I tried to avoid you. But my mindset was because of your rude behavior in the past. Let me recall one instance which comes to my mind:

    There you simply put me down with words like "Hush, Child". I have put in great efforts to be civil to you. In my memory I have never downvoted a post of yours. That is because, honestly, you appear to be a brilliant chap for your age. But sometimes you make it extremely hard to be nice to you.

    Other instances of this sort of attidude is in the SBS thread on Grothendieck's letter, in which fpqc opines that Grothendieck should be beaten up. I do not know how one can go ahead with that sort of attitude. The only excuse one can imagine is that fpqc is perhaps too juvenile.

    But please do stay around in MO and continue contributing math, ignoring the jibes.

    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010 edited

    Now, having confessed my own guilt above, let me ask MOers to be a bit more civil to Harry. He has contributed many good things here. We might have personal differences with him. But, mathematical considerations should be on top of just everything else and so Harry needs to be honored properly.

    This is in response to a post of bbukh in which he pointed out the bad treatment meted out to Harry.

    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010

    @Harry. Maybe you are not provoked enough now to ragequit. However you were indeed provoked enough to ragecommunitywikiallyourquestions.

    What I would like to encourage people to do is, if Harry makes an offensive comment then flag that comment as offensive! Don't take it out in the questions and answers.

    I would also like to emphasize again that 4 downvotes (as opposed to 30) need not necessarily imply that the person is being vindictive. I've certainly given the same person 4 upvotes on completely different posts in quick succession.

    @Harry: I don't really understand the point of converting all your posts to wiki. If the goal is to get explanatory comments along with the downvotes, how does it help? If the goal is to get fewer downvotes, it seems like it hurts (people are more likely to downvote CW posts if they're out to downvote). If the goal is to protect against reputation loss, it probably hurts since you've gained rep on average on your posts. Unfortunately, now people who answer your questions won't earn reputation for it.

    If you suspect you're being systematically targeted by another user in the future, please email me. If it turns out that somebody is systematically downvoting you, I'll take care of it. Side note: it looks like Scott understated the problem a bit, and actually fifteen (not just four) of your downvotes came from a single person in the last day, and those fifteen downvotes account for almost half of the downvotes that person has ever made.

    To anybody downvoting Harry's posts:

    If want to "teach him a lesson" because he's left nasty or abrasive comments/answers, stop for a moment to realize that indescriminantly downvoting his posts doesn't help the situation. You're treating him like he's not a person and encouraging him to treat others like they're not people. It's much more productive to leave a comment like "-1 I think your 'joke' is out of line" (@Harry: I trust you won't take such a comment as an invitation to defend your joke) or even "please edit this post for tone" (with or without the -1). If he edits the post to improve it, consider removing your downvote. If you don't want to leave a comment for fear of getting into an argument, please flag the post for moderator attention. If the offending remark is in a comment, flag the parent post and ask us to look at the comments. I assure you that the other moderators and I appreciate this kind of flagging.


    Sorry for missing the extent of the downvoting --- Anton happened to be over at my place for dinner, and we saw this just before he was heading home, and did a quick, but incomplete investigation. Anton has since followed up on my initial email to this person.

    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010 edited

    @Mods. Is this sort of policing going to help? Did you ask why that person did what he or she did? To protect Harry's rights, one should not cover up the only way someone might have to avenge his or her hurt feelings. It is the democratic right of the silent to express themselves through voting and such.

    I think in mathematics itself the best papers are not chosen not only through how loud their authors are, how much they promote it in conferences, etc., but also through the grapevine underneath, in which people express their admiration for so-and-so ideas in this or that paper. This sort of silent feedback is what keeps the engines of science running. Otherwise, if someone have some 10 blogs, that person will get the most attention. I think in student level this problem is already happening. A student with a blog gets much more attention than an equally good or better student whose temperament is not suited for blogging and such public relation stuff. One must consider the rights of the silent also.

    Therefore I ask the mods to please consider the negative voter's democratic rights, just as I have argued for the need for Harry to be treated honorably.

    The Gospel says, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword". As I have pointed out, I myself felt bad from Harry's words at some point of time. Perhaps he is just reaping what he had sown? There must be some provocation for the person's actions. It cannot simply happen without a reason. If the person/persons has a valid reason, then over a period of time they will express their frustration through downvotes and the trend will die down. Meanwhile Harry can bite the bullet and wait until the storm gets over, continuing to contribute positively and mathematically to the community. Others have remarked that it is the non-math involvement that creates the problem.

    Edit: If this is for instance done by the Troll who was troubling MO with junk questions, then I am with Harry for this one. But generally, one should at all restrict people's right to downvote.


    No, it can't be the troll for the simple reason that downvoting requires 100 reputation points.

    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010 edited

    @Anton. "Flagging for moderator attention" would work in MO. But what about meta?

    @Generally. That said, I for one almost never had any problem with Harry in MO. As for meta, I note that for the last three weeks or so, Harry almost never did any particularly troublesome stuff, except for being intensely active. He listened to criticism most of the time when there was some objection. Maybe everyone should cut the dude some slack.

    I have noted that in internet communities there is the tendency to seek out a scapegoat. If possible Harry should not be targeted like that considering his young age. His recent betterment should be noted and he should be given some space. I am also guilty of a prejudiced mindset against him, I try to clear some of my sin by confessing it.

    @Harry. There is no need to speak every time some issue happens. You can let some of it go. In this world there are so many people and so many issues. Our brains can't address each of these issues. We have to make a choice. It is remarkable progress for your age that you have achieved, as evidenced by your project on Algebraic Spaces. It will be a better use of your time and energy if you devote them to your project, or other stuff in academics. What do you gain by cleaning the world of all its evils? That too in a place like mathoverflow? If you are really worried about the problems that plague the world, then taking it out in MO is not the way to address them. You have to go out and join a social reform movement, or reform for mathematics movement, or some political party, or something like that. If you keep expressing your voice on umpteen matters in MO which is meant for math, you will just keep on frustrating people.

    @Everyone: If you agree with what I have tried to explain to Harry in the above para, then please join me and try to convince him!


    @Anweshi (three comments up): I assure you that Harry's problem with tone on MO has caused me at least as much headache as anybody else, but two wrongs don't make a right, they just make more wrongs. Systematically downvoting another user's posts regardless of content is unacceptable; I don't care who started it. Neither offensive behavior nor abuse of the voting system should be tolerated.

    I really prefer that people flag for moderator attention rather than (or in addition to) flagging comments as offensive. This is for the simple reason that moderators don't have any way to find comments that have been flagged offensive (please vote up this feature-request).

    If you really want to flag a post on meta, you should probably just email me or Scott.

    I agree that Harry's gotten much better recently. Thanks Harry!

    Reiterating Anton's point above: my email address is, and Anton's is If there's something you're upset about on meta, and there's any chance we can defuse a bad situation by acting privately, please contact us! We can delete posts, edit posts, and attempt to write calmly, privately, and constructively to everyone involved. :-)

    Anton: I think what might help is enforcing the rules more consistently. From the previous two "Harry threads" it seems like he annoyed quite a few people here, yet all that happened was that he was asked politely to stick to just math for a month, something he does with some, but far from overwhelming, success. On the other hand, someone downvotes several of his posts and now there are two moderators looking into who did this.
    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010 edited

    @Anton. You are correct that two wrongs does not make a right. But: Harry's moments of introspection in meta were precisely those asking for explanation on downvotes. The fact that others' life is becoming more difficult because of some of his actions, was not really understood by him until this feedback through downvotes happened. How else would Harry finally have realized that there is some issue?

    The downvoter was willing to sacrifice some of his reputation when he gave so many downvotes, and he was going against his own mathematical sense, when he downvoted some of Harry's posts that might have had mathematical merits. Normally one does not go to such an extent merely out of jealousy. Your professional duty would call out to you and stop you from acting against the interests of the subject. I would still urge that the right for downvotes is fully preserved.

    • CommentAuthorAnweshi
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2010

    @Harry. Done.

    I actually wouldn't necessarily be averse to there being a system where you could downvote negative contributors (say a button on their user page where you could give up 50 of your reputation to also eliminate 50 of that person's). It might help with giving people feedback about how their overall contribution is seen. The point is just that voting down individual questions that are actually fine questions because of someone's annoying comments is not how the site is supposed to work.


    the moderators have taken definitive action limiting various users actions on the site, at various times, which we haven't always explained on meta. In particular, at times we have "punished" Harry, and at other times we've defended him against others users. We're mostly very hesitant to make any such action public -- in part to avoid moments of public shaming which we feel would be disproportionate to the offenses (when we have to intervene with users that we feel are acting in good faith, we do so very carefully), and in part to preserve the cloak of mystery and awe around the moderators superpowers. :-)

    At this same time, you do make a valid criticism, and we're aware that the "rules" whatever they are, are not enforced consistently. It might not be as bad as it appears -- I want to point out that some things we do are relatively invisible. One rule which I'm going to try to enforce much more thoroughly in future is that direct insults and outright rudeness on mathoverflow (meta is a free-for-all, as far as I'm concerned, sorry), will result in suspensions.

    The word "punishment" does not seem so appropriate; something like "sanction" seems to be more in the spirit of adult discourse.

    I am not sure that invisible sanctions are the best idea. It is in the nature of disturbing or inappropriate behavior that it will be noticed by many users. It is a particularly concerned or conscientious user who alerts the moderators to the problem. If the sanctions are invisible, then the large group of disturbed users has no way of knowing whether their concerns are being addressed.

    I myself have written to moderators to alert them to behavior that I consider problematic. I have gotten responses from the moderators, but I don't think I have ever been informed that any specific sanctions have been taken. In this situation, it is hard to avoid the worry that no sanctions have been implemented, which makes me less enthusiastic about reporting similar problems in the future.

    Thanks Pete for the advice on "punishment" -- you can see I put it in scare quotes because I knew it wasn't the right word. We'll have a talk about how to deal with this issue. Something I want to mention is that as a result of this thread, after I'd said we'd been in touch with someone doing systematic downvoting, an entirely different person fessed up to doing the same thing on a larger scale. We hadn't noticed this by looking through the database, which was a bit annoying, but hopefully we'll be better prepared if there's a next time. When they wrote to us, they were very concerned about their admission remaining private, and we'll certainly respect that.

    We've certainly noticed some other problems that haven't provoked outcry on meta, and it seems that these we should continue dealing with privately -- in part because we've sometimes been wrong about them!


    I can't really think of any way to do "public sanctions" aside from public humiliation, which is obviously a bad idea. @Pete: I've sent you an email which I hope addresses your concerns and renews your enthusiasm for reporting problems.

    @Anton and Scott: Thanks for contacting me. I am well satisfied with your responses. By a visible sanction, what I meant is that if a user is suspended for a certain period of time, then evidence of this suspension should be available to those who wish to look for it. (I see now that this is in fact the case on MO as it is on SO.) I didn't mean that there should be some separate public proclamation.
    One way I've seen it implemented is to have the offensive post include a message from the moderator saying "this user has been suspended for X days", and have the user's profile display the same message (with or without a link to the offending post). This doesn't seem particularly humiliating, but on the other hand lets other people know the problem has been handled and there is no need to go and downvote random posts.

    This does have the flavor of a typical internet forum, as opposed to a community of adult professionals; but then again, this really is an internet community and has some of the same problems as any other internet community.
    There is exactly one person who is responsible for your suspension, Harry. If you reflect on it, the identity of this person should become clear.

    I'm pretty convinced that we will never publicly announce why a user has been suspended (or otherwise "sanctioned"), or even that they've been suspended. Of course, the user is welcome to talk about it if they want to.

    "Vote fraud" may warrant a suspension in the future, but it's not going to happen this time. As Scott said, we completely missed some things. The user contacted us and was very apologetic, open, and helpful. I wouldn't hold my breath for this person to identify themselves.

    With any luck, misbehavior of any sort will be extremely rare on MO. At the very least, I hope we get better at excising it.